MOUNTAINSIDE – With speech and language disorders ranking among the most common disabilities in children, parents and caregivers are encouraged to learn the signs—and seek an evaluation—if they have concerns about their child’s ability to communicate.

New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NJSHA) would like to offer some guidance for families because May is recognized nationally as Better Hearing & Speech Month.

“Development of strong communication skills is extremely important—and parents anxiously await their child’s first words,” said Mary Faella, President of NJSHA. “Yet common misconceptions remain. One is that children generally ‘grow out’ of speech or language difficulties. Unfortunately, this mistaken impression too often delays treatment. Of course, some children are indeed ‘late bloomers,’ yet treatment is frequently necessary, too. Good communication skills are critical, helping with behavior, learning, reading, social skills, and friendships. It is much easier, more effective, and less costly to treat speech and language disorders early—and May is a great time to educate parents on this important point.”

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Speech and language disorders are evaluated and treated by speech-language pathologists. Speech is the ability to produce speech sounds using the mouth, lips, and tongue. A child may say sounds the wrong way, repeat sounds and words, or be otherwise difficult to understand. Language is the ability to use and put words together—and to understand others’ words. A child may have trouble understanding questions, following directions, or naming objects. Early speech and language treatment set a child up for future school and social success.

Some of the warning signs to watch for in young children include:

  • Does not babble (4–7 months)
  • Makes only a few sounds or gestures, like pointing (7–12 months)
  • Does not understand what others say (7 months–2 years)
  • Says only a few words (12–18 months)
  • Says p, b, m, h, and w incorrectly in words (1–2 years)
  • Words are not easily understood (18 months–2 years)
  • Does not put words together to make sentences (1.5–3 years)
  • Says k, g, f, t, d, and n incorrectly in words (2–3 years)
  • Produces speech that is unclear, even to familiar people (2–3 years)
  • Repeating the first sounds of words, like “b-b-b-ball” for “ball”(any age)
  • Stretching sounds out, like “fffffarm” for “farm” (any age)

For school-age children, warning signs may include the following:

  • Has trouble following directions
  • Has problems reading and writing
  • Does not always understand what others say
  • Is not understood by others
  • Has trouble talking about thoughts or feelings

Although treatment ideally begins early—in the toddler years—it is never too late to get treatment. The large majority of parents report significant improvement after treatment. Families can learn more and find help at http://IdentifytheSigns.org, www.asha.org/public and www.njsha.org.